Tag Archives: Diversity

Health equity mini-grants aim to jump start collaborative research

The mini-grants are intended to foster research collaborations that improve community health.

Making access to health care more equal is a tough task, and a pandemic only makes the job tougher. To help, the UMKC Health Equity Institute is trying a new tool — mini-grants to university researchers and their community partners — to boost those efforts.

“We have about $12,000 to $15,000 to spend, and we think putting $1,000 to $2,000 in the right places could help eight to 10 projects move forward,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., the director of the institute and a professor in the UMKC School of Medicine. “Sometimes help paying for study participants, software, consultants or other resources can make a real difference.”

Though small, the grants could be the seed money — or the Miracle-Gro® — needed to turn ideas into budding projects that encourage and measure the effectiveness of community health efforts.

The brief application for the mini-grant program is available now, and institute members are encouraging researchers and community groups to submit their joint applications. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend a webinar Oct. 16 to learn information about the mini-grants. Important information, such as budget documents and the grant program overview, are available, as well.

Applicants will have until Nov. 9 to submit their proposals, after which finalists will be chosen. The finalists then will give short oral presentations and recipients will be chosen. The institute plans to have the funds available at the beginning of 2021.

“We’re hoping the mini-grants stimulate our researchers to be creative and to collaborate with community partners — or build relationships with new partners,” Berkley-Patton said. “The institute’s steering committee will evaluate the applications, and we hope to have applicants make a brief, but impactful, oral pitch for their proposals sometime this fall in a virtual presentation akin to “Shark Tank®.”

The idea behind the Health Equity Institute, an initiative Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal started in April 2019, is to partner UMKC researchers with community groups, non-profits and government agencies in underserved areas on projects that aim to improve community health.

The institute, for example, is working with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority to evaluate the impact of the city’s now-free bus service on health outcomes. The institute wants to understand whether their recruited residents’ health and overall well-being improve because they walk more and have better access to jobs and health care through the free transit system. The institute has also helped the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department conduct COVID-19 drive-through testing by coordinating more than 90 student volunteers. The students helped with intake, traffic control and providing COVID-19 information to people seeking testing.

The institute also helped with formation of an interfaith ministers’ group, the Clergy Response Network,

founded to address COVID-19 inequities in Kansas City’s faith-based settings, and has created a church reopening checklist for clergy. The network recently received 30,000 face masks to distribute to congregations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Berkley-Patton is a veteran of community-based health research, including studies that engage churches and other community-based organizations’ in efforts to combat health disparity issues such as HIV and other STDs, mental health, obesity and diabetes.

“We need more research projects that improve the health of people where they live, play, worship and work, and projects that can be sustained for the long haul after research shows they work,” Berkley-Patton said. “We think these mini-grants can get more projects like these up and running while engaging the community in research efforts that we hope will reduce disparities and improve health in Kansas City’s urban areas.”

For more information on the mini-grant program, visit the Health Equity Institute website.

 

Take Wing winner driven by passion to serve

Dana Thompson, M.D., M.S., M.B.A ’91, was just a child when she began to realize what it meant to be a physician.

Her maternal grandfather, throughout most of his career as a general practitioner in Mississippi, was the only black physician in a nearly 100-mile radius. Thompson watched him and learned about commitment to patients and community. She saw the endless drive for excellence and the longing to provide patient care where it was sorely needed.

Her father, in the midst of the Civil Rights Era, was among the first black physicians to enter the integrated obstetrics/gynecology residency program at Kansas City General Hospital. As she grew older, Thompson accompanied her father to the hospital, and during her high school years she worked in his Kansas City, Kansas, practice. She was even one of the early graduates of the UMKC School of Medicine’s Summer Scholars pipeline program for area high school students.

Now, Thompson is a third-generation African-American physician who embodies those same family characteristics, the drive for excellence and a thirst to assure access to medical care for those in need. Those traits also made her a natural for the School of Medicine’s 2020 E. Grey Dimond, M.D., Take Wing Award winner.

Thompson delivered this year’s Take Wing lecture online to a School of Medicine audience on May 19.

Thompson serves as the Lauren D. Holinger Chair of Pediatric Otolaryngology at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and a professor of otolaryngology head and neck surgery at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Working in Chicago, where the population is diverse and ranges across socioeconomic backgrounds, Thompson is on a personal mission to educate others about the unintended consequences of bias in health care delivery.

“At this point in my career, I think that’s what I’m most passionate about,” Thompson said.

After graduating from the School of Medicine, she completed her residency in otorhinolaryngology head and neck surgery at the Mayo Clinic. She followed that with a fellowship in pediatric otolaryngology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where she trained under the pioneer of pediatric airway surgery, Dr. Robin Cotton.

Throughout a 23-year career in academic medicine, Thompson has become a leader in pediatric airway and swallowing disorders. Her landmark research in laryngomalacia made her a world authority and transformed the medical and surgical management of the condition, the most common cause of infant stridor, a high-pitched wheezing caused by disrupted airflow.

Thompson spent most of her career at the Mayo Clinic, where she became the inaugural chair of the division of pediatric otolaryngology.

“What an opportunity that was – at age 32, to build a program from scratch and create a service line at a world-class organization,” she said.

The experience also helped her understand that she wanted to have the same sort of impact in an urban setting at a major academic children’s hospital. So, when the opportunity arose to lead the division of otolaryngology at Lurie Children’s Hospital, Thompson made the move.

Now a surgeon and administrator, she also serves as vice chair of the Department of Surgery and executive director for the hospital’s ambulatory practice.

Much of her work in the operating room involves highly specialized, complex, high-risk surgeries on children with obstructions in the upper airway. With the onslaught of the coronavirus, the procedure is of particular high risk for transmission of the virus to health care workers. As a result, Thompson has been busy helping the hospital and her surgical teams adjust to new, safer ways to provide such patient care.

“We’re taking different processes in the operating room in terms of protecting our team with personal protection equipment, while assuring a safe environment to deliver care to children in need,” she said. “We’ve even changed some minor details of how we ordinarily do surgeries to prevent virus aerosolization during surgery. It’s rapidly changing and evolving. We’re going to have a whole new way of doing things.”

Health for all remains an elusive goal

From left: Rex Archer, Mary Anne Jackson, Eric Williams, D. Rashaan Gilmore and Bridget McCandless.

Community leaders discuss UMKC efforts to close gaps

Health equity is a broad concept that encompasses differences in disease and mortality rates, and in access to healthcare services, among different population groups. It also includes differences in social determinants of health, such as poverty, exposure to toxins and access to healthy food.

UMKC leadership quantifying and addressing these differences was the focal point of the UMKC Engagement Showcase, the university’s signature event celebrating Engagement Week – a special week of engaged leadership, partnership and learning hosted by UMKC and the UM System.

The event included a demonstration of the System’s new online Engagement Portal and a panel discussion on health equity led by the director of the new UMKC Health Equity Institute, Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., of the UMKC School of Medicine.

Engagement with community partners by the UM System and its four universities is hardly a new phenomenon. Curt Crespino, UMKC vice chancellor for external relations and constituent engagement, noted that UMKC history is rooted in an enduring city-campus partnership.

Marshall Stewart, chief engagement officer for the UM System, said what’s new is a more systematic and coordinated approach to engagement, including a transformation of the system’s Extension programs, designed to expand engagement beyond Extension’s original rural focus to forge engagement partnerships in every community and corner of the state.

“Urban and rural communities are facing very similar issues across Missouri. Our mission is to work together with all of our stakeholders to expand our impact by using our research to help transform lives,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “That spirit of connection to the city and engagement with our community was woven into the origin story of UMKC. And we are excited to take those efforts to the next level in collaboration with the efforts being led by the system.”

Following are excerpted highlights of the health equity panel.

Jannette Berkley-Patton, director, UMKC Health Equity Institute:

“We spend billions on healthcare but are still one of the unhealthiest countries in the world.” The burden of health disparities rests primarily on groups outside the mainstream, including people of color, rural communities, veterans and seniors. Large federal grants allow for the creation of effective programs, “but what happens when the grant ends? Everything goes away. We need to figure out how to take the Cadillacs we create with these million-dollar grants and turn them into Pintos.”

Rex Archer, director, Kansas City Health Department:

“We need to change the structural issues that create the (health equity) problem.” These include issues with disparities in housing, poverty, education, safety and more.

Mary Anne Jackson, interim dean, UMKC School of Medicine:

In 2014, the Kansas City area had to contend with a large outbreak of a serious respiratory illness among school-age children. Researchers were notified early enough to identify the virus responsible and contain the outbreak. “We were able to address this in time because of the strong connections we have with people in the community who brought it to our attention.”

Eric Williams, pastor, Calvary Temple Baptist Church:

Conducting funerals for victims of gang violence and AIDS led Williams to involvement in public health. “Conversations about HIV were happening, but it was all on the down-low. (Berkley-Patton) helped us to understand that some of the things we were already doing were working” to change behaviors.

Rashaan Gilmore, founder and director, BlaqOut:

BlaqOut surveyed gay African Americans about their health care priorities, and the top response was health care access. “It was because they didn’t feel welcomed by traditional providers. We asked them to recommend strategies to address that, and we developed interventions based on those results.”

Bridget McCandless, former president and CEO, Health Forward Foundation:

After 15 years working in a free health clinic, she changed her approach from providing care to impacting policy “because I saw that policy could be far more effective.” Citing a sampling of dramatic health disparities between local white and black populations, she said “there’s no excuse for us to have disparities like that.” Data analysis can empower highly effective strategies if we act on the findings. “We’re getting smart enough to figure this out. (Data-driven policy) can be the new germ theory; it can revolutionize the delivery and effectiveness of health care.”

School of Medicine seeks nominations for annual awards

The School of Medicine is accepting nominations until Aug. 1 for four faculty, staff and student awards. These will recognize achievements in diversity and health equity, mentoring, medical education research and teaching.

The Excellence in Diversity and Health Equity in Medicine Awards recognize an individual or organization that has demonstrated sustained and impactful contribution to diversity, inclusion and cultural competency or health equity. The award is given to a student or student organization, and to faculty, staff, resident and/or organization/department.

Nominees should be those who have made consistent contributions to diversity, inclusion, cultural competency or health equity through one or more of the following:

o Recruiting or retaining a diverse student or faculty body;
o Fostering an inclusive environment for success of all;
o Working to promote health equity and the elimination of health disparities;
o Strengthening efforts to develop or implement cultural competency strategies that improve health-care delivery.

Nomination materials should be sent to the attention of Dr. Nate Thomas, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at thomasen@umkc.edu

Two Betty M. Drees, M.D., Excellence in Mentoring Awards are presented each year. The Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award is for a faculty member with the rank of professor. The Excellence in Mentoring Award goes to a faculty member who is either an associate or assistant professor.

The awards recognize the significant contributions mentors make to enhance and develop the careers of our faculty and trainees. Characteristics of successful mentoring include generosity, listening, objectivity, and constructive feedback regarding career and professional/personal development.

The third annual Louise E. Arnold, Ph.D., Excellence in Medical Education Research Award will be given to a tenure track or non-tenure track faculty member who has contributed to innovation and scholarship related to medical education at UMKC School of Medicine for a minimum of five years.

The second annual Christopher Papasian, Ph.D., Excellence in Teaching Award will be given to a tenure track or nontenure track faculty member who has contributed to medical student pre-clinical education.

Nominations for the mentoring, medical education research and teaching awards should be sent to Dr. Rebecca R. Pauly, chair, selection committee, at paulyr@umkc.edu.

Winners of the awards will be announced on Sept. 13th during the annual Faculty Promotion and Awards reception at 4 p.m. in Theater B.

Past award recipients:

Excellence in Diversity and Health Equity in Medicine Awards
Individual:
2015 Jim Stanford
2016 Fariha Shafi
2017 Briana Woods-Jaeger
Organization:
2015 Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association
2016 Asian Pacific American Medical Student Association
2017 Gender Pathways

Betty M. Drees, M.D. Excellence in Mentoring Awards
Lifetime Achievement Awards:
2014 Vidya Sharma
2015 John Foxworth
2016 Agostino Molteni
2017 Julie Strickland

Excellence in Mentoring Awards:
2014 Simon Kaja
2015 Vincent Barone
2016 Pamela Nicklaus
2017 Brenda Rogers

Louise E. Arnold, Ph.D., Excellence in Medical Education Research Award
2016 Louise Arnold
2017 Stefanie Ellison

Christopher Papasian, Ph.D., Excellence in Teaching Research
2017 Christopher Papasian

Surgeon says interventions can help disrupt cycle of violence

Dr. Moncure.

Violence tears apart too many young lives in minority communities, but interventions at crucial times can help reduce such violence and its effects, Dr. Michael Moncure said at the 2018 Dr. Reaner & Henry Shannon Lecture, held Feb. 23.

In his presentation at the UMKC School of Medicine, “Factors Associated With Interpersonal Violence in Minority Communities,” Moncure recounted anti-violence efforts from his career as a trauma surgeon. And he praised and drew hope from such recent efforts as Kansas City’s AIM4PEACE, which de-fuses violence with effective actions backed by research.

The direct results of violence are devastating, Moncure said, citing Centers for Disease Control statistics for 2015: 44,000 suicides; 17,000 homicides; and $107 billion in lost wages. In Kansas City, Missouri, he noted, homicides spiked in 2016 and remained high in 2017. The toll on minority communities can be devastating, and particularly tragic when young lives are lost or disrupted.

Moncure, a professor in the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine, said his first job was in Camden, New Jersey, at the time notorious for crime and poverty. Moncure got involved with a program much like the TV show “Scared Straight,” which showed young people in high-crime areas how bad life could be if they committed violent crimes and were imprisoned.

“Those programs had some splash, but they weren’t evidence-based,” Moncure said. The programs ultimately were ineffective. “We even got a little cocky, and shared some of our materials with adults” in the criminal justice system. It was a reality check, he said, when those adults were unimpressed and even incredulous that Moncure and his colleagues thought their efforts would have any effect.

Research on violence and trauma and their causes and effects has come a long way since then, Moncure said, and trauma has come to be seen much more broadly than shootings or other violent crimes. Many studies have associated both recurring violence and adult diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart failure and hypertension with the number and severity of someone’s ACES — adverse childhood experiences. ACES include poverty, divorce, and incarcerated parent, violence in the home and sexual abuse.

But research also has shown that interventions to support trauma victims at the right times can reduce the effects of such trauma and often prevent more violence.

For example, Moncure said one shooting often leads to another in retaliation. But an intervention specialist quickly summoned to a hospital bedside can help the wounded person and calm friends and relatives who might think they know who fired the shots and are bent on revenge.

In Kansas City, Missouri, Moncure said, the AIM4PEACE program specializes in such interventions, builds healthy relationships and gets results. Those efforts also are part of a community-wide plan that includes social support, counseling, job training and other efforts to combat violence. Another benefit of having research behind these efforts is demonstrating that they are cost-effective. Moncure believes this has helped get support from the Kansas City business community.

Henry and Dr. Reaner Shannon sponsor the annual lecture, given Feb. 23 by Dr. Moncure.

Thankful to be part of the annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lectureship in Minority Health, Moncure noted that the series, developed to create awareness about health disparities affecting underserved and minority communities, encouraged exploring solutions to society’s problems.

“There’s no better use of science,” he said.

 

SOM announces new Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

Nate Thomas

School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., is pleased to announce that E. Nathan Thomas, previously the chief diversity officer for the University of Kansas, has joined the School of Medicine as the new Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion.

A highly successful educator, administrator and entrepreneur, Thomas served as vice provost for diversity and equity at Kansas since July 2014. Before that, he was the first campus diversity director at the University of South Florida Polytechnic, and was founder and a consultant with Invictus Human Capital Management in Florida.

At Kansas, Thomas provided leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion for 21 non-academic and academic units. He expanded the program from a campus-wide to a system-wide model that encompasses four of the university’s campuses, including the medical school. He was responsible for implementing a Diversity Leadership Council work group to execute system-wide diversity efforts and developed work groups to coordinate diversity education and training for all new faculty, staff, and students.

His office at Kansas also partnered with the Office of Faculty Development to fund and implement the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD), Resources for Inclusive Teaching, and the Diversity Scholars Program

While at South Florida for nine years, Thomas developed the first campus diversity office. His efforts included a mentoring program to enhance the retention of a diverse student body, a diversity advisory group of faculty, staff, students and community members, and a successful multi-university grant proposal designed to increase the number of women and minorities in technology disciplines.

Thomas received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in community/clinical psychology from Norfolk State University. He completed his Ph.D. in ecological-community psychology at Michigan State University.

Thomas began his new role at the UMKC School of Medicine on December 18.

“We are excited to have someone with Nate’s broad range of experience and talent to lead our efforts in diversity and inclusion,” Kanter said. “Please join me in welcoming him to the UMKC School of Medicine.”

School of Medicine welcomes largest class of Summer Scholars

High School students from throughout Kansas City took part in an orientation session for the 2017 UMKC School of Medicine Summer Scholars program on Friday, July 7.

July at the UMKC School of Medicine is a time for high school students to immerse themselves in the school’s annual Summer Scholars Program. The activity has been providing opportunities for minority and disadvantaged students in the Kansas City metropolitan area to get a head start on a potential career in health care for 37 years.

This summer’s class is the largest ever with 78 students signed up to take part, nearly 30 more students than a year ago.

Darius Jackson serves as coordinator of the School of Medicine’s diversity programs, including Summer Scholars. He said the growth is partly by design and partly out of necessity to meet a growing need.

“I was a little ambitious,” Jackson said. “We had around 300 applications for Summer Scholars this year. We kept seeing the number of applications increase and decided, let’s find a way to increase our numbers instead of turning away more students.”

The solution was to expand the program by adding a third two-week session and allowing in more first-time participants.

Previously, all students in the program for the first time were in the Summer Scholars group, and those returning for a second year were in the Advanced Summer Scholars program. This year, one class of first-year scholars was made up of high school juniors and the other consisted of high school seniors. Students returning for a second year of the program still participate in the Advanced Summer Scholars program.

Prior to starting the program, students and parents from all three groups participated in an orientation session. The full two-week session for juniors begans Monday, July 10, with seniors starting a week later and the Advanced Summer Scholars beginning the week after that.

Each year, Summer Scholars receive daily instruction in academic areas such as chemistry and language arts, and study anatomy and physiology in the school’s cadaver lab. Classroom experiences range from medical terminology and understanding health disparities to ACT and standardized test taking. Summer Scholars also experience different medical services such as emergency and outpatient medicine, rehabilitation, and nursing, as well as surgery.

The advanced program includes a research component and additional experiences in various clinical rotations.

Summer Scholars prepares students for a career in health care by helping them build a foundation for success in multiple areas including interview skills, study and test-taking strategies, and interpersonal and communication skills.

Community partnerships crucial to combat obesity, Shannon lecturer says

Daphne Bascom (right), M.D., Ph.D., talked after her lecture with an audience member. The sponsors of the lecture, Henry and Dr. Reaner Shannon, listened in.

The 2017 Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health, given by Daphne Bascom, M.D., was filled with compelling statistics and fresh insights into the importance of community health efforts. It also reinforced an old saying: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Bascom, the senior vice president of community integrated health for the Greater Kansas City YMCA, focused her lecture, “Collaborating Across the Continuum to Create a Healthy Community,” on efforts to combat obesity.

“The connection between rising rates of obesity and rising medical spending is undeniable,” said Bascom, who spoke Feb. 24 at the School of Medicine.

But she also noted that investing just $10 per person in community efforts to reduce obesity could pay off in an estimated $16 billion in annual health care savings.

Some other bracing numbers:

— Annual obesity-related health care costs are estimated at $315.8 billion, with $14.1 billion related to childhood obesity.

— Businesses lose $4.3 billion a year to obesity-related absenteeism.

— Average health care costs are 42 percent higher for obese people.

— More than one in three U.S. adults are obese, and obesity rates are worse for black and Latino adults.

— Kansas had the 7th worst rate of adult obesity, and Missouri was tied for 10th.

Bascom, a board-certified specialist in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery, also related her own career experience with the need to “build a better bridge” for integrating community institutions with the health care system.

Case in point: Bascom’s efforts beyond surgery involved helping patients with follow up communication and recommendations for better fitness and nutrition. “Sometimes it worked,” she said. “But then there were the patients who couldn’t pay their electricity bills. … It was wearing and frustrating because there weren’t the community resources to help them.”

So Bascom, who received her medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, looked for broader ways to improve people’s health. She came to Cerner Corp. as chief medical officer, where she provided strategic consulting services on how to use health information technology to improve quality, safety, operations and the fiscal health of their organizations.

Now at the YMCA, Bascom is developing and promoting health partnerships and sustainable programs One area the Y is promoting? Reducing obesity—including working with families, improving access to affordable healthy food, providing safe places to be physically active, and curbing exposure to marketing of less nutritious foods.

Bascom, who herself struggled with her weight in grade school, said, “Obesity is a problem. It’s been a problem. It continues to be a problem. But it is something that can be solved.”

 

Kansas City YMCA executive to deliver annual Shannon Lecture

Dr. Bascom

Daphne Bascom, M.D.,  will be the keynote speaker for the School of Medicine’s 12th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health at noon on Friday in Theater A. Bascom is the senior vice-president of community integrated health for the Greater Kansas City YMCA.

With more than 10 years’ experience as a physician executive, Bascom is an expert in clinical integration, performance improvement, and the design and deployment of health information technology systems.

Before joining the YMCA, she was vice president and chief medical officer for physician alignment at Cerner Corporation. There, she provided strategic consulting services to health-care executives on how to use health information technology to improve quality, safety, operations and the fiscal health of their organizations.

Bascom also served at Cerner as chief medical officer for worldwide consulting and chief medical information officer and was recognized as Healthcare Executive of the Year. Before working at Cerner, she was the chief clinical systems officer for the Cleveland Clinic Health System in Cleveland, Ohio.

She is a board-certified specialist in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery and has fellowship training in microvascular surgery of the head and neck. Dr. Bascom is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and completed her residency training at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. She earned her Ph.D. in physiological sciences at the University of Oxford Laboratory of Physiology in the United Kingdom.

Leader in minority health delivers 11th annual Shannon Lecture

J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E., deputy assistant secretary for minority health, spoke with School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., and Samuel Turner, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, before presenting the 11th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health.
J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E., deputy assistant secretary for minority health, spoke with School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., and Samuel Turner, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, before presenting the 11th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health.
J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E, deputy assistant secretary for minority health, presented the annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture on Feb. 26 at the UMKC School of Medicine.
J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E, deputy assistant secretary for minority health, presented the annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture on Feb. 26 at the UMKC School of Medicine.

A leading government official for minority health in the United States said Friday that while the country has made strides toward narrowing the gap in health equality, there is still work to be done.

As deputy assistant secretary for minority health and director of the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E, plays a major role in the development and implementation of government programs and policies to battle health disparities in the United States.

“Our goal is not only to close the gap, but to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential of health,” said Gracia, who delivered the UMKC School of Medicine’s 11th annual Dr. Reaner and Mr. Henry Shannon Lecture in Minority Health.

Gracia offered a brief overview of her office and how it looks at the disparities in health and health care in the country. She called this year a landmark for the office, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary of working to improve the health of racial and ethnic minorities.

She outlined many of the factors, from changing demographics to the various economic barriers, which play into the health discrepancies still seen in today’s population.

“All of these factors make the mission and the role of the Office of Minority Health more urgent now than ever before,” Gracia said.

A pediatrician with a focus in epidemiology, Gracia received her medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh where she was a student of current UMKC School of Medicine Dean Steven Kanter, M.D., and his wife, Leslie Borsett-Kanter, M.D. Gracia established herself as a leader on a national level while in medical school. With Kanter’s urging and support, Gracia rose to the position of president of the Student National Medical Association. She is a national president emeritus of the organization is also a past postgraduate physician trustee of the National Medical Association.

She has since served as the chief medical officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, providing program and policy leadership for a number of initiatives from global health to climate change. Gracia also served as a White House fellow and policy advisor to First Lady Michelle Obama on a program to battle childhood obesity. She has been named one of the 100 History Makers in the Making by the African-American news site, TheGrio, and one of Washington’s Powerful Women by the BET channel.

Gracia said that under the current presidential administration, health-care priorities such as the Affordable Care Act and My Brother’s Keeper, a task force designed to ensure all youths have the opportunity to reach their full potential, have been implemented to keep Americans healthy and safe, boost scientific research and medical innovations, and to expand and strengthen the health care system.

She also recognized the work taking place on local levels. Gracia applauded the efforts of physicians and researchers at the School of Medicine and throughout UMKC in addressing the issue of health equality in the Kansas City community.

“The work you are doing, reaching out to the community and providing opportunities is one that is of great need,” Gracia said. “We ask that we continue to work together in this dramatic year in which we are talking about accelerating health equity for the nation, not just continuing our efforts but truly accelerating our progress so we can reach that goal of reaching the full potential for health.”